Olam Haba - The world to Come
There is no reference to Olam Haba in the Scriptures. In the Jewish religion, we first find those references in the "Mishna". The Mishna is a compilation of Jewish law divided into many tractates, each of which deals with a specific topic. Originally, Jewish law was developed and passed down to future generations by word of mouth only. Towards the end of the second temple, The Rabbi's realized the need to write everything down and so a massive project was initiated which resulted in the compilation of the Mishna. As such, the Mishna deals with many aspects of Jewish law that are not relevant in post-temple days (not "Nogea bizman hazeh").
We, thus, see that the invention of the idea of the after life coincides with the Zman Hamishna which was painful a era in Jewish History compared to previous eras. The days of the Mishkan and the first Temple were successful and mostly victorious days for the Hebrew and -later- Jews. Towards the end of the second Temple, Jews were Roman subjects and they were being heavily taxed and periodically persecuted. Although the Romans did eventually realize that the Jews were too stubborn to try to get them to worship the Roman gods and thus granted the Jews a special exemption from the standard rule that all Roman subjects must worship the Roman gods, the Romans did still have a say in many aspects of Jewish life. The Roman governor had a big say on many issues and it was apparent that Jewish independence would not last very much longer.
These hardships posed the question that many intelligent people have asked throughout the generations all over the world. Why do people suffer? Why do we see "righteous" people suffering and living low-key, painful lives while the "wicked" are exuberant and enjoying life to its fullest? This Phenomenon has been observed by all intelligent people in virtually every society. However, at a time when an entire people is going through torment and is subject to the rule of a foreign nation, then the question becomes universal to the subjected nation. Now there is no difference between the rich and the poor, because they are all subjects and no one is really enjoying life even if they are as good and righteous as they can possibly be.
Could it be that the right is not really right? We somehow feel instinctively that it's wrong to kill, it's wrong to steal, it's wrong to commit adultery. We feel very strongly that those deeds are deplorable and those who commit them should be punished. On the other hand, we strongly feel that virtuous people should be rewarded. It's a feeling only, but we can't imagine it any other way! How is it possible that we should be punished for doing the right thing? It just goes against common sense!
This has spurred the idea of the after life. Olam Haba merely refers to a world that we experience spiritually after we die. Since our bodies are known to disintegrate after we die, this "life" can exist in spirit only. In this future world experienced by our spirits after we die, all records are set straight. The righteous get would they deserve: peace, tranquility and prosperity and the wicked get what they deserve: torment, suffering and eternal damnation! The "Olam Haba" theory is therefore quite sophisticated in its assumptions. It predicts quite a bit; yet, it cannot possibly be proved or disproved because it is based on the assumption that each human being possesses a "soul" or spirit that lives on after the physical body dies. The human spirit is intangible. Olam Haba can therefore not be proven to exist like you prove a scientific theory which involves physical matter that can be measured and quantified. Yet, it cannot be disproved either. That's because every theory must have a scientific proof in order for there to possibly be disproof.
Still, The Rabbi's in the Zman Hamishna felt compelled to support the idea of the soul and the afterlife even though there was no physical observation that indicated its existence. The primary motive for this theory was simply the observation that the righteous are suffering and the wicked are prospering. This observation alone stirred up enough of a paradox in the minds of Jewish intellectuals and theists of the day, to compel them to come up with the idea of the soul and afterlife.
The two-stage model: Work and Pay
We see this in many aspects of life. People "work", which by definition involves acts that are not necessarily pleasurable. Then, AFTER they are done with the work, they get paid and get to enjoy themselves with the money just earned. The work is a means to an end. It's not an end by itself. Life is full of such examples and the idea of Olam Haba is based on this model. Work in this world and get to reap the benefits in the world to come. This concept is very well articulated in a Mishna in Avos "This world is analogous to a vestibule; prepare yourself in the vestibule so that you may enter the main hall". In other words, you can't expect to see bread in front of your table if you sit idly all day. Everyone understands and accepts the fact that they must toil the earth, seed the crop, water it, tend it, protect it from insects etc... and then harvest it and go through many more activities and hassles before it is finally turned into an edible product.
The Olam Haba theory is closely linked to the work-pay model. According to the Olam Haba theory, work is done in this life and the reward occurs in the afterlife and in the afterlife ONLY. There is no real reward in this world although there is some benefit. Why do the wicked prosper in this life? There are various explanations for this, but I'm not going to go into this because it's off topic. The bottom line is that his work-pay model is true and it is the explanation of why people suffer in this life.
An Alternative Theory to Explain the Suffering of the Righteous
As we have emphasized earlier, Olam haba is not a physical observation. Rather, it's a religious belief. It can NOT be proven because it does not involve anything that can be measured by the physical senses. Anyone who knows the scientific model (taught in grade school) knows that in order for a theory to become law, it must involve specific "predictions" and these predictions must be observed and measured REPEATEDLY so that it is verified that the cause and effect are related. Obviously, there is no way that Olam Haba or the human spirit can be observed. So we are left with a prediction and belief system ONLY.
Modern science reveals many things that seam to suggest that there is no such thing as a human spirit. For one, we now know that the human and the animal species are closely related. Many biological, behavioral and mental processes occur in the human and beast alike. Therefore, if we believe in spirits and the afterlife, the beast should have one too. Yet, we don't see any of the righteous suffering and wicked prosperity phenomena in animals and no theologian has ever suggested that animals experience an afterlife.
In the days of the Mishna, it was assumed that high up there in the sky there is a "pure" place (physically) where the spirits reside and they experience joy or torture depending on whether they were righteous or evil during their earthy life. This physical place is now known not to exist. Modern science has revealed that the "sky" is nothing but an area that is far far from earth and differentiated by space that has a different chemical content. But the basic physical, chemical and biological laws that govern our solar system and planet govern all other stars, galaxies and planets throughout the universe (for all we know). What is most important to our discussion is that these stars and "heavenly bodies" are really physical bodies just like our planet and star; the stars are not gods and they are not spiritual beings. In light of this, it is hard to imagine where, physically, the spirits exist and also how their existence is defined biologically.
Another problem with the Olam Haba theory: if all humans have a unique soul which lives on forever (at least in the case of the righteous one), wouldn't there eventually be too many souls? Think about it! Every righteous person that ever existed and that ever will exist possesses an individual soul that will live on forever. This system adds billions of individual souls to the soul base every generation. It's not the physical space of where to place them that is the problem. The problem, rather, is the dynamic and tremendous growth that is involved here, which is just illogical.